By Bill Mance

Many people join the armed forces to gain valuable skills, training and personal growth. The opportunities need not end when it’s time to return to civilian life. In exchange for serving our country, several programs help veterans transition to new roles as owners of their own small businesses. For example, the U.S. Small Business Administration has partnered with the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, SCORE, Small Business Development Centers and other resource partners to create the Boots to Business program (boots2business.org).

This program provides transitioning service members the knowledge, tools and resources they need to evaluate opportunities and become successful entrepreneurs.

Following its successful launch in 2012, Boots to Business aims to make the nuts and bolts of starting and growing a business available to the 250,000 service members from all branches of the military that transition each year.

The program is offered on military bases and forts for current active duty members and their spouses who are transitioning out (http:// www.sba.gov/offices/headquarters/ ovbd/resources/160511).

Veteran entrepreneurs who need financing can check out a Veterans Advantage loan. The SBA has announced an extension of fee relief on loans of $150,000 or less through fiscal year 2015. For larger loans, the annual servicing fee lenders pay will be 0.519 percent of the guaranteed portion of the outstanding balance of the loan. This makes such loans much more attractive to lenders, thus more available to veterans.

To help veteran-owned businesses connect with public- and private-sector customers for their products and services, there’s the Department of Veterans Affairs’ website at www.vetbiz. gov. The site also includes a database listing businesses more than 51-percent owned by veterans or service- connected disabled veterans — a valuable tool for promoting your new business to potential federal and private- sector customers.

And don’t forget the Veteran Fast Launch Initiative. This collaboration of SCORE and the WalMart Foundation provides veterans and active duty military members (plus spouses and immediate family members) with free or significantly discounted business start-up resources such as software and business services (provided by major corporate partners); scholarships to attend SCORE small business start-up workshops; web-based workshops, tools, templates and white papers; and, of course, access to SCORE’s mentoring program.

On the SBA North Carolina page, there is a special webpage for veterans. It contains SBA program information and other resources. It is easily accessed at www.sba.gov/nc, scroll down to the “counseling” section on the bottom left and click on “For veteran business owners.” Here you will find information about the SBA’s Veteran Business Outreach Center program and a link to the Veterans Business Outreach center at Fayetteville State University.

Bill Mance is a SCORE volunteer mentor. To learn more how veterans and civilians alike can profit from the extensive small business resources offered by SCORE, contact asheville.score.org. SCORE — which originally stood for Service Corps of Retired Executives — is a nonprofit organization whose volunteers provide free, confidential business mentoring and training workshops to small business owners.